Designing your life: Design and Agile Tools Applied to Life.

Designing your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans explains how you can apply design thinking to life choices. While the true test of the information in the book is to do the exercises and embrace the process, and look at the results (which I have not yet done) I finished the book with an excellent understanding of the possibilities and the feeling that I could use the tools to better understand my goals. Participating in a mini-workshop that Bill Burnett helped to validate that the process can be very powerful. A lot of work, but powerful.

As I mentioned in an earlier Techwell article (which was based on an interview) many of the concepts here may be familiar If you are a student of agile principles. Some of the exercises are reminiscent of those in Innovation Games. There is an exercise that is reminiscent of a career timeline exercise that Johanna Rothman has proposed, and the discussion of job searches and job descriptions is very consistent with some of what Johanna has written about the subject.

There are other elements that sounded familiar as well. The discussion of problem reframing will be familiar to those who work with software requirements, and the discussion of the qualities of a good “design team” will be familiar to anyone who has studied teams and read books such as Extraordinary Groups. Even if the concepts are familiar, there is value in seeing them applied to life design.

That the tools are familiar should not lead you you dismiss the value of the book. (After all, one could argue that much of the “agile toolbox” derives from other disciplines.) Like any tool box, tools can have many applications and it’s useful to have a guide to how to use a tool to solve your problem with the right techniques, and to understand that there are versions of the tool that are more finely tuned to your purpose. I hesitate to say “solve your problem efficiently” because life design is neither a problem with a single solution end point (it’s a process) nor is it simple. By applying the collection of straightforward steps in this book you can start on the path to understanding how to design a like that is congruent in all dimensions that matter.

Regarding solving as compared to exploring, the authors emphasize that there is difference between engineering problems and design problems is that design problems in that engineering problems are more about solving, and design ones about building forward. While I believe that to be a good engineer you need to understand design, I agree that there are different perspectives, and engineers don’t often switch between “explore options” and “solve a defined problem” appropriately.

This is an easy to read book that can be useful in helping with evaluating both the big picture and specific aspects of your life. You may even gain some insight into problems related projects, since the tools are similar. Reading the book is valuable. Working through the exercises with a team can be more so. The book is full of are exercises and is supplemented by a web site with worksheets and other resources to use. This is an easy to read book that can be as useful as you want it to be.